Many Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans believe that their team cannot win given its salary-cap structure. Too much of the entire salary cap is distributed to too few players. The fact is that what has come to be called the team’s Core Four has been constructed uniquely. Few other teams have been built so purposefully.
A recent tweet from Sportsnet Stats shows that the Core Four of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and William Nylander have combined for 49 percent of all the Maple Leafs’ points this season. At the same time, this group takes up 49 percent of the team’s salary cap.
The Maple Leafs Have Been Built to Win, What Happens in the Postseason Might Differ
That’s an interesting statistic for sure, but it also shows that the Core Four forwards are also pulling their weight this season. In this post, I’ll look at how these four players are doing in the season. From my perspective, the team has been built to win more of their games than they lose during the regular season. How far the team does in the postseason might be and has been another matter. Yet, there’s always a good chance this team will make the postseason – every year.
So far, as most Maple Leafs’ fans know, the team has not done well in their postseason journeys. In this post, I’ll look at the players in order of their scoring totals thus far in the season.
Core Four Player One: Mitch Marner’s Season Thus Far
As Maple Leafs’ fans know, Marner is currently chasing down the franchise record of 19 straight games with at least a point. During the 2022-23 season, Marner’s been held off the scoresheet only two times. That’s quite an amazing statistic.
Marner seeks the franchise record tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He scored an empty-net goal in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over San Jose Sharks to share the record with Darryl Sittler and Ed Olczyk. During that streak, the 25-year-old Marner has scored seven goals and added 17 assists (for 24 points).
Marner’s playmaking has been solid all season. He seems able to play at a different speed and comprehend the game more quickly than other – even outstanding – hockey players. Marner’s also done well in comparison with fellow NHL players. Specifically, he’s tied for sixth in NHL assists. He’s 13th in NHL points and 69th in NHL goals. Although many defensemen are ahead of Marner in average time on the ice during a game, among NHL forwards he’s in eighth place at 21:28 minutes.
Core Four Player Two: Auston Matthews’ Season Thus Far
Interestingly, the one thing Matthews has not done yet this season that he did regularly last season is to journey off on a hot streak. He’s struggled to overwhelm opponents offensively in the same ways he used to. No doubt the opposition’s tight-checking has shaped how Matthews plays. In the long run, logic suggests that, if he can overcome the tight-checking during the regular season, Matthews’ responses will bode well for the team’s postseason success.
Right now, Matthews might be starting on a hot streak. He’s scored a goal in each of his last three games and is beginning to produce multiple-point games. Regardless, Matthews still produces, albeit differently this season than last season. The 25-year-old star remains a team leader. But he’s doing so defensively as well as offensively.
Matthews is also at the point in his career where he’s hitting milestones. He scored his 200th even-strength goal. If he goes on one of his goal-scoring streaks as hockey pundits believe he will, he’ll get back to his NHL-leading status. That said, he doesn’t have to do so to stay a Maple Leafs’ leader.
Matthews’ five-on-five game needs to pick up more if he’s going to find his way to the top again. Right now he’s only tied for 16th place in goals and 19th place in points. That’s far below last season’s final rankings.
Core Four Player Three: John Tavares’ Season Thus Far
John Tavares began the season flying, although he’s tailed off recently with only a single assist in his last three games. Tavares has been streaky all season. Before his last game, he was on a four-game, seven-point streak.
Although fans believed he would, Tavares has not slowed down this season. He worked hard over the summer. As a result, the predictions of his demise have proved to be incorrect. His offseason training has given him more speed in transition and has improved his puck protection and his ability to elude opposition defenders. He’s a great fit with Marner because they play at the same offensive speed.
Tavares is now 32 years old. He recently scored his 400th career goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins and scored three goals against the Philadelphia Flyers at home last month. Tavares like Matthews is tied for 16th in goals. He’s in 24th place for points and is tied for fourth place in power-play goals.
Where Tavares excels is in the face-off circle. There he ranks 13th in face-off wins with exactly 250. Of all NHL players who’ve won more than 250 faceoffs, only three NHL players have a higher percentage than Taveres 58.7%. [By the way, Jonathan Toews has an amazing percentage of 65.1 percent.]
Core Four Player Four: William Nylander’s Season Thus Far
William Nylander is having his best season to date. In part that improvement can be traced to his engagement in what is called dirty spaces. That’s something he’s not seemed willing to do but is doing it more this season than in the past.
He’s in a good position on the first line with both Matthews and Michael Bunting. Because both Matthews and Bunting are good in the corners, that leaves Nylander free to roam and receive. In part, that’s why Nylander leads the Maple Leafs in goals scored.
Nylander can also be streaky. His goal against the Detroit Red Wings was his ninth goal in 12 games. His plus/minus is also improving. While Nylander has never averaged a point a game, he was close last season. He seems to be on a scoring pace that will put him there this season.
The 26-year-old Swedish forward winger also recently surpassed Maple Leafs’ great Borje Salming by scoring his 150th goal as a Swedish player. He’s now second in goals scored for a Swede to Mats Sundin. Sundin ranks first in Maple Leafs’ franchise history with 420 goals and 987 points.
Nylander is tied for 10th in goals in the NHL this season.